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by Sally N. Ellis Fletcher
5 October 2015

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BLOG: How to be aware of and avoid prejudice in healthcare

Biases, prejudices and stereotypes (BPS) by healthcare workers can attribute to healthcare disparities, delayed access and discrepancies in healthcare equity. Yet, healthcare workers are often the target of BPS from peers, other professionals, patients and patients’ support persons, especially if they do not represent the majority population.

Many have heard these situations before: a patient says to a healthcare worker, “Honey, I need a real nurse. You’re so tiny! Are you out of university?” A colleague takes it upon himself or herself to “check” on patients assigned to nurses educated at schools he or she personally considers to be lesser than his or her own alma mater. Patients and peers alike make judgments based on healthcare professionals’ race, gender, accent, sexual orientation and a host of other personal characteristics every day.

These examples come from a person’s culture—their values and beliefs—clashing with what they see. Nonetheless, they are hurtful, risk permanent scarring and thrust healthcare workers into a quandary of how to handle BPS against them as healthcare workers. Sadly and far too often, our colleagues are left to silently bear their pain without support from peers, managers or organisations.

As managers, we can be proactive in several ways. An initial step in this journey can begin with exploring the cultural sensibility process. The goal of cultural sensibility is to provide culturally appropriate care through acknowledging personal BPS, learning to bracket personal BPS, applying critical thinking and reflective reasoning to the identified situation and hearing the patient’s (or colleague’s) perspective in order to provide culturally sensible interventions.

By creating environments that foster best practices for managing cultural clashing, acknowledging healthcare workers can be and are targets of BPS and preparing staff to provide cultural appropriate healthcare by examining their own BPS, we can create a much healthier healthcare industry.

It’s about time to do the hard work and care for one another as healthcare providers, so we can provide culturally appropriate care.

Note: Cultural sensibility is a deliberate proactive behavior by which healthcare workers examine cultural situations through thoughtful reasoning, responsiveness and discreet (attentive, considerate, and observant) interactions. The process of cultural sensibility necessitates self-awareness of biases and preconceived ideas and strives to separate personal cultural beliefs from the healthcare worker-patient interaction (Ellis Fletcher, 2015).